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So if I'm flying into a Class C airspace, I call approach and I establish radio contact and tell them I want to land, then I enter the airspace. If I'm still talking to approach and haven't been handed to tower yet, and they tell me to make (say) left traffic for Runway 15, does that give me permission to descend to TPA? When do I need to maintain a specific altitude in Class C and when can I descend at my discretion? And more broadly, if ATC doesn't give me any altitude restrictions in the Class C, can I fly at whatever (safe) altitude I want to as I come in for the landing?

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  • $\begingroup$ I added the faa-regulations tag on the assumption that you're asking about the US. If that isn't correct, please tell us which country's regulations you mean. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jun 25 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ To correctly answer this question we need more information. At the very least we need to know if you are operating this flight under IFR or VFR; whether you are flying a turbine powered aircraft or not (i.e., does 91.129/130 apply). $\endgroup$ – J Walters Jun 26 at 2:00
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Absent an explicit instruction to the contrary, VFR traffic can do whatever it wants in class C/D/E airspace. ATC is not supposed to give you both lateral and vertical control instructions at the same time because that could interfere with your ability to maintain VFR cloud clearance requirements. Class B has different cloud clearance, so you will almost always get both, and you should "unable" them if complying is not legal.

If ATC has told you to "advise any altitude changes", then do so—before starting up or down. If they told you "altitude your discretion", then they don't care. If they said neither, it's recommended to advise by default unless you're doing something where an altitude change is obvious, such as entering the pattern. They key is to not surprise them.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is incorrect insofar as turbine aircraft are required to comply with certain minimum altitudes in Class C airspace as required by 91.130 regardless of VFR or IFR operations. This answer appears to be true only for piston aircraft. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Jun 26 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Walters I didn't address 91.119 either since it's not relevant to the OP's question. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jun 26 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps I stated my point poorly. In class C airspace large and turbine aircraft are required to maintain at least 1500 ft AFE until further descent is required for landing. Thereafter, with certain exceptions, such aircraft must not descend below vertical guidance until DA/DH. VFR traffic—as a category—are not permitted to merely do as they wish in class C airspace when altitude is concerned. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Jun 26 at 22:16

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